The Idaho stop is the common name for a law that allows cyclists to treat a stop sign as a yield sign, and a red light as a stop sign. It first became law in Idaho in 1982, but was not adopted elsewhere until Delaware adopted a limited stop-as-yield law in 2017. In 2018, Colorado passed a law standardizing the language municipalities or counties would use for a local Idaho Stop or Stop as Yield law, with certain statewide limits. Arkansas adopted the Idaho Stop law in April 2019. "Stop as Yield", a version that deals only with stop signs, has also expanded to parts of Colorado and been considered in several other states, including Oregon which passed such a law in 2019 that will go into effect in 2020. Advocates argue that current law criminalizes normal cycling behavior, and that the Idaho stop makes cycling easier and safer and places the focus where it should be: on yielding the right-of-way.
The original Idaho yield law was introduced as Idaho HB 541 during a comprehensive revision of Idaho Traffic laws in 1982. At that time, minor traffic offenses were criminal offenses and there was a desire to downgrade many of these to "civil public offenses" to free up docket time.
Carl Bianchi, then the Administrative Director of the Courts in Idaho, saw an opportunity to attach a modernization of the bicycle law onto the larger revision of the traffic code. He drafted a new bicycle code that would more closely conform with the Uniform Vehicle Code, and included new provisions allowing cyclists to take the lane, or to merge left, when appropriate. Addressing the concerns of the state's magistrates, who were concerned that "technical violations" of traffic control device laws by cyclists were cluttering the court, the draft also contained a provision that allowed cyclists to treat a stop sign as a yield sign—the so-called "rolling stop law." The new bicycle law passed in 1982, despite objections among some cyclists and law enforcement officers.
In 2006, the law was modified to specify that cyclists must stop on red lights and yield before proceeding straight through the intersection, and before turning left at an intersection. This had been the original intent, but Idaho law enforcement officials wanted it specified. The law originally passed with an education provision, but that was removed in 1988 because "youthful riders quickly adapted to the new system and had more respect for a law that legalized actual riding behavior."
In 2001, Joel Fajans, a physics professor at the University of California at Berkeley, and Melanie Curry, a magazine editor, published an essay entitled "Why Bicyclists Hate Stop Signs" on why rolling stops were better for cyclists and it provided greater interest in the Idaho law.
The first effort to enact the law outside of Idaho was started in Oregon in 2003, when the Idaho law still only applied to stop signs. While it overwhelmingly passed in the House, it never made it out of the Senate Rules Committee. The Oregon effort in turn inspired an investigation of the law by the San Francisco Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission in 2008. That investigation failed to spawn legislation, but it did garner national attention, which led to similar efforts nationwide.
The term "Idaho Stop" came into use as a result of the California effort in 2008. Prior to that, it was called "Idaho Style" or "Roll-and-go." "Idaho Stop" was first used by the bicycle blogger Richard Masoner in June 2008 coverage of the San Francisco proposal, but in reference to the "Idaho Stop Law." In August of the same year, the term—now in quotes—first showed up in print in a Christian Science Monitor article by Ben Arnoldy who referred to the "so-called 'Idaho stop' rule." Soon after, the term "Idaho stop" was commonly being used as a noun, not a modifier.
Advocates for Idaho stop laws argue that they improve safety. Two studies of the Idaho stop show that it is measurably safer. One study showed that it resulted in 14% fewer crashes and another indicated that Idaho has less severe crashes. Similarly, tests of a modified form of the Idaho Stop in Paris "found that allowing the cyclists to move more freely cut down the chances of collisions with cars, including accidents involving the car's blind spot." And, less definitively, a study of rolling stops in Seattle determined that "these results support the theoretical assertion that bicyclists are capable of making safe decisions regarding rolling stop," while a 2013 survey of stop as yield in Colorado localities where it is legal reported no increase in crashes. Another study done in Chicago showed that compliance with stop signs and stop lights by cyclists was low when cross-traffic was not present, but that most were still performing an Idaho Stop; and therefore "enforcing existing rules at these intersections would seem arbitrary and capacious(sic)." Some supporters maintain that changing the legal duties of cyclists provides direction to law enforcement to focus attention where it belongs—on unsafe cyclists (and motorists). Additionally, some claim that, because bicycle laws should be designed to allow cyclists to travel swiftly and easily, the Idaho stop provision allows for the conservation of energy.
Opponents of the law maintain that a uniform, unambiguous set of laws that apply to all road users is easier for children to understand and allowing cyclists to behave by a separate set of rules than drivers makes them less predictable and thus, less safe. Jack Gillette, former president of the Boise Bicycle Commuters Association, argued that bicyclists should not have greater freedoms than drivers. "Bicyclists want the same rights as drivers, and maybe they should have the same duties," he said. San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee argued that the law "directly endangers pedestrians and cyclists" in his veto of a similar law in his city.
Examples and legislative history
Idaho is both the largest and longest practitioner of the stop-as-yield, and the only practitioner of the red-as-stop. Mark McNeese, Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator for the Idaho Transportation Department says that "Idaho bicycle-collision statistics confirm that the Idaho law has resulted in no discernible increase in injuries or fatalities to bicyclists."
In 2012, a decree in Paris allowed cyclists in that city to turn right or, if there is no street to the right, proceed straight ahead on red, under the condition that they "exercise caution" and yield to pedestrians, after road safety experts deemed the measure would reduce collisions. During the summer of 2015, Paris law was modified to allow cyclists to treat certain stop lights as yield signs as allowed by signage. The change only applied to right turns or going straight at a T-junction.
In parts of Colorado, the stop-as-yield law is in place. In 2011, the cities of Dillon and Breckenridge, Colorado, passed stop-as-yield laws, in 2012 Summit County passed a similar law for its unincorporated areas, and in 2014, the City of Aspen passed one as well. Fort Collins considered the same law in 2013, but declined. In 2018, the state passed a law standardizing the language municipalities or counties could use to pass an Idaho Stop or Stop-as-yield ordinance and preventing it from applying to any state highway system. The act requires the cyclist to go through the intersection at a reasonable speed and sets the reasonable speed limit at 15 mph, but a municipality or county could reduce it to 10 mph or raise it to 20 mph at any individual intersection. The city of Thornton became the first city to legalize the "Safety Stop," following the change of law, when they did so in 2019.
In 2017, 35 years after Idaho, Delaware became only the second U.S. state to pass an Idaho Stop law. Delaware's law - known as the "Delaware Yield" - makes stop-as-yield legal, but it only applies on roads with one or two travel lanes. Cyclists must come to a complete stop at stop sign-controlled intersections with multi-lane roads.
Many states have laws allowing cyclists (and motorcyclists) to stop at and then proceed through a red light if the light doesn't change due to the inability of the embedded sensors in the ground to detect them. Such laws often require that the cyclist stop, confirm that there is no oncoming traffic, and proceed after waiting a certain amount of time or cycles of the light. These are known as "Dead Red" laws.
Since 2003, Idaho stop style bills, or resolutions asking the state to pass one, have been introduced in Oregon, San Francisco, Minnesota, Arizona, Montana, Utah, Washington DC, New York City, Santa Fe, Oklahoma, Edmonton, Colorado, and California, with various levels of success. Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson signed the Arkansas "Idaho stop" law in April 2019.
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